Jonathan Valin articulates that there are three types of audiophiles: 1) those who are interested in the absolute sound, 2) those who are interested...
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Maker Audio is a relatively new name on the audiophile scene; however, its principal, Tom Maker, is anything but new to the high-end, having designed and marketed the well-regarded and breathtakingly expensive Edge amplifiers for over 20 years, until he sold the company in 2008 to focus his attention on developing the M10 powered loudspeaker with built-in DSP. When the company to which he sold Edge filed for bankruptcy in 2011, Tom reacquired all of the Edge amplifier designs. He has now updated the original amplifiers to take advantage of advances in amplifier design and component technology, including more efficient transformers, better transformer shielding, and an all new filtering power supply, and is marketing them at significantly lower prices under the Maker Audio moniker. All Maker Audio products are manufactured in the U.S. The amplifier under review is the Maker Audio G9 ($4500), successor to the acclaimed Edge G8.
In addition to its technical improvements, the new 48 pound chassis, which measures 16″ wide by 4.5” high by 15” deep, and thus on the trim side of the competition, is unique among contemporary amplifiers in that it eschews both bent metal and aluminum, and instead uses a distinctive stainless steel approach which is striking. The front panel bears only a single blue power LED. The rear panel is likewise spartan, with balanced and unbalanced inputs, two pairs of heavy-duty 5-way binding posts, and a combination IEC outlet and power switch. Each speaker output is protected by an 8A circuit breaker. The heat sinks are internal, and vented through eight rows of designer-inspired, laser-cut ventilation holes. The top of the chassis never got more than warm during my audition, even when driven hard. Its 1250VA transformer allows it to deliver a very conservatively rated 225 watts/channel into 8 ohms at .01% THD from 20Hz-20kHz, increasing to 378 watts/channel into 4 ohms. Total capacitance is specified at 68,000 microfarads.
Although I listened to scores of albums during my time with the G9, I want to focus on a few to give you a sense of the amplifier’s performance. First Up is a Miles Davis Kind of Blue, a jazz and audiophile favorite that most are familiar with. My copy is a DSD64 audio file, which I find has better depth and texture than its CD counterpart. The opening So What is so iconic that it is immediately recognizable by even those who are not jazz aficionados. It starts with Bill Evans playing a slow piano riff with support from Paul Chambers on the acoustic bass. The piano is firmly planted behind the left speaker and is nuanced with a beautiful tone and believable macro dynamic representation. The bass, in the center, is soft and distant, light and lithe, but not without impact that you can feel faintly in the floor. It is responsible for the toe tapping going on, whether or not you are consciously aware of it. Jimmy Cobb’s drum set appears on the right a few measures in, with brushes on the cymbals which are delicate and airy. No lack of detail, but without such detail being etchy. Miles Davis enters with trumpet, which is restrained and has a burnished rather than brassy sound, which is a testament to the lack of a midrange bump and over-active high end in the G9, and which rivets your attention center stage, where it hovers. Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, which is rich and vibrant, appears to the inside and behind the left speaker, and John Coltrane on tenor sax, which has a more aggressive bite, appears up front and jumps out of the right speaker. The sound is so right it is hard to believe the album was recorded over 50 years ago. The only telltale sign is that the piano is panned hard left and the drums and tenor saxophone are panned hard right, which draws your attention to the fact that the sound is coming from the speakers. Mixed as it is, it is constricted in width, though not depth, which makes is psychologically difficult for the speakers to disappear. However, when either Miles Davis or Cannonball Adderley are playing, suspension of disbelief is easy. I wish they played for more than nine minutes; putting it on repeat is your only option to get a fix.
Of course, So What is not the only cut on the album. Freddy Freeloader is mixed in the same manner as So What. However, there is greater emphasis on Miles Davis’s trumpet, which is smooth and flowing. The drums are featured more prominently as well. Again Jimmy Cobb rides the cymbals with brushes, but with greater accents on the snare. Cannonball Adderley’s alto sax is more markedly reedy, and John Coltrane’s tenor sax really cuts through emphatically, but not glaringly. Bass is nimble, well articulated and full-bodied. In Blue in Green, the pace is slowed. Miles uses a bell on his trumpet, which gives it a distinctive, higher-pitched, and less detailed, but expressive sound. The acoustic bass, occasionally bowed, again takes an equal place in the sextet as in So What, and provides depth to the image. All Blues has a catchy melody, played continuously by the piano except during its solo. The bell is off the trumpet, and Jimmy Cobb has traded in his brushes for sticks. The real sound of wood on metal. This is a studio recording, and so the sound does not have the same sense of ambiance found on live recordings. The G9 doesn’t add anything not present in the source. Toward the end, there is slight noise or distortion in the high frequencies of the tenor sax, which I cannot account for unless it is in the microphone feed on that track on the master tape. It is not a product of the G9. The pitfalls of a truly resolving system. Kind of Blue is truly a great album, and the G9 does it full justice.
There are few things more seductive than Shubert’s leider, especially when performed by a soprano with as fully developed vocal and interpretive gifts as Elly Amerling. She is perhaps not as well know as the operatic superstars of her day, which is surprising given that she recorded over 150 albums and performed with all the major orchestras throughout the world. But then song recitals have fallen out of favor and thus are not before the public’s attention. In this extremely well-balanced Philips recording, entitled simply Leider, she is accompanied by Rudolf Jansen on piano, and performs nearly a score of both well-known and rarely heard lieder from Schubert’s enormous repertoire, treating the listener to an hour’s respite from daily stress and care. So mesmerizing is her performance, at the end you’ll wonder where the time has gone. The piano is wonderfully recorded. Stripped of any hard edges, it pours forth from a completely silent background. The casual listener is not aware of a soundstage, except to note that the music emanates from what is surely a large hall. Audiophiles, though, will note the breadth and depth of the image, before becoming entranced in the music. The speakers, indeed the walls, simply disappear. Ambiance retrieval is extraordinary, giving the real sense that you are there. Ms. Amerling’s voice is liquid, which often is not the case with the German language. Here the “ish” sounds are voluptuously enunciated without any hint of sibilance, which is not to say that detail is missing or that the midrange is overripe. It is in fact what I would characterize as warmishly neutral. In particular, the upper vocal range, is beautifully reproduced. When a soprano sings with authority, often the voice takes on a certain glare. None is present here. All in all, a marvelous performance by both Ms. Amerling and the G9.
Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra provides a palette from which to assess tonal color, in this case the famous performance with Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on RCA Living Stereo. Not orchestral in the sense, of, say, a Mahler symphony; rather a work which spotlights individual sections, and within each section individual instruments, of the orchestra. The recording is very smooth, if lacking in the last measure of fine detail, detail which would not be present sitting in the audience, but which some audiophiles crave. Instead, it portrays a broader view. The work begins with the cellos and double basses providing an ominous backdrop, with the violins interjecting added tension and nervous energy, and the oboe adding an eerie mein. The tympani emerge with a subtle but felt distant thunder underlying the strings. The un-brassy brass punctuate the canvas from time to time to add almost startling energy with small fortissimos. Over the course of the work, the volume and density of the sound becomes elevated and then subsides, and the G9 reproduces these shifting dynamic contrasts well. Notwithstanding the density, each orchestral section is clearly demarcated. Pizzicato strings, including notably the double basses, retain a supple plucked quality. The soundstage is notably wide, though somewhat shallow. All of which adds up to a of sound of uneasy emotion which is resolved in an almost playful finale. Rather than inviting an analysis of the characteristics of the amplifier itself, the G9 steps aside and allows a fully engaged listener to focus on the wash of sound and development of the music, which is as it should be.
I listened to a wide variety of music with the G9 and came away impressed with its well defined bass, neutrality to warmth in the midrange, delicacy and detail in the high frequencies, spacious soundstage, and both effortless and relaxed presentation. Edge amplifiers are back on the scene with a new name, and now at an attractive price that will appeal to a larger swath of audiophiles. And its distinctive stainless steel chassis and faceplate will garner pride of place in your system. Easily recommended.
- Frank Berryman
Analog Source: VPI Scout; Dynavector 20X2; Musical Surroundings Phonomena II
Digital Sources: Meridian G08; Mac Mini; dCS Debussy; Audirvana Plus
Preamplifier: Meridian G02
Power Amplifier: Meridian 557
Loudspeakers: Magnepan 1.7
Analog Cables: Kimber Select KS1016 and KS1116
Digital Cables: Kimber D60; Wireworld Starlight USB
Speaker Cables: Kimber Select KS6063 and KS9033
Power Cables: Kimber PK10G and PK14G
Headphones: Etymotic ER-4S
Accessories: Audience aR2p power conditioner